South Sudan: Hope keeps separated children going
By Sylvia Nabanoba, Communications Manager, Uganda
Fifteen-year-old Jacob* and his brother Sam,* 17, are sitting on a dirty mattress under a tree, waiting to line up for the communal breakfast. Their sister, 12-year-old Martha*, has gone to the borehole to fetch water for washing up. Since fighting flared up in South Sudan in December, tens of thousands of refugees have fled to Uganda in search of safety.
Next to Jacob and Sam is a pregnant woman, Mary*, who has three young children playing around her. Looking at them, one could easily think they were all one big family.
An unusual kind of family
In one sense they are, but the reality is that Jacob, Sam and Martha do not know where their parents are and Mary, who has seven children of her own, has taken them in.
“When fighting broke out in our home town, we were in our boarding school,” says Jacob. “Parents came and picked up their children. Our parents did not pick us up because they were in Juba. People began running, and we also ran with them.”
“We reached the town centre and found people getting into cars to go to Uganda. We also climbed into one, which brought us to the border. We carried nothing. We did not even have money. From the border, we were transported on a lorry to this place,” Sam adds.
Refugee children alone
Jacob, Sam and Martha are not the only children who have travelled alone from South Sudan to Uganda. To date, the UNHCR has registered 631 separated or unaccompanied minors in the Rhino Refugee camp.
“This mama belongs to our tribe. When we told her what had happened, she said we could stay with her,” says Sam. Mary, her seven children, and the three parentless children all stay under a big tree. They are luckier than many who are simply out in the open, forced to create makeshift shelters using bedsheets and clothes to find some protection from the sun.
Mary’s husband didn’t leave with them so she takes care of all the children by herself. She is eight months pregnant.
Sam, Jacob and Martha have three young siblings; they have no idea where they, or their parents, could be. “They might be dead because we were told that the area where our family was staying in Juba is where the war started,” says Sam.
“I think about my mother a lot,” Martha says. “What I want is for all of them to be alive.”
Tracing parents, reuniting families
“We are going to trace parents or relatives of separated children and reunite them,” says Fatuma Arinaitwe, a Save the Children project officer in charge of child protection in emergencies. “During my time in Rwamwanja Refugee Resettlement Camp in DRC, we managed to reunite a sizeable number of children with their families. It is always a joyful occasion and I’m confident the same will happen here.”
*Names changed to protect identities